Well, we’ve made it. After 10 weeks, the first season of Skins has come to an end on MTV. When it debuted way back in January, much of the attention focused on the show’s sensationalistic subject matter. MTV certainly invited all the hand-wringing. Let’s not forget, BBC America was airing the original, arguably more offensive version of Skins well before the MTV series debuted, but it didn’t have the budget to wallpaper the entire world with posters that looked like snapshots of a teen orgy. The show debuted with a bang, if you will, but as the ratings have dwindled, so has all the controversy: It turns out the Puritans, like the TV execs they loathe, only care about ratings. For pop culture obsessives, the question wasn’t whether Skins was kiddie porn, or a dangerous glamorization of drug and alcohol use. What really mattered, at least to those of us who spend too much time watching TV, was this: Just how bad would a quasi-American Skins be? The answer—not terrible, but not great either—is about as anticlimactic as tonight's season finale.
For a show that’s scored middling ratings, this season ended without a compelling cliffhanger. Maybe this was a conscious decision to end the season—and possibly the series—with something like closure, in case MTV decides to lower the boom. Or maybe the whole Tony-getting-hit-by-a-bus thing just wasn’t going to work in translation. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed this particular plot point was abandoned. As you are all, by now, sick of hearing me say, James Newman is, far and away, the weakest thing about Skins. I was looking forward to the possibility of a second season in which Tony would more or less catatonic (not a stretch for Newman, luckily). So why the decision to spare Tony? I can’t be sure. Maybe the writers have consciously decided to curtail the melodrama (not a bad idea, at least in theory), or maybe they want to keep Tony a central part of a potential second season (bad idea). In any case, it looks like Tony's cranium is firmly intact, which doesn't leave much dramatic incentive for a second season.
This version of Skins ostensibly uses the same format as its original—each episode is told from the point of view of a different character—but I don’t think the show has fully exploited the possibilities of these subjective shifts. The episodes never feel as vignette-like or self-contained as the British ones do, and we don’t really “dive in” to the world of each character in quite the same way. Tonight's episode, which nominally follows Eura, Tony's voluntarily mute younger sister, is a prime example. In the British series, there’s an endless and, frankly, kind of ridiculous episode (though it’s not the finale) devoted to Tony’s late-night search for his sister Effy, who’s been abducted by rich drug fiends in order to get back at Tony for his malevolent, attention-hogging ways; in tonight’s episode, Eura stages her own “kidnapping” to get back at Tony for his malevolent, attention-hogging ways. It’s certainly more plausible this way, but still—something else has been lost. For one, Eura gives in and speaks way too quickly. The show barely makes an effort to sustain her unsettling muteness, giving up on the stunt before they’ve even started it, really (Effy, on the other hand, didn’t utter a word all of season one.) What we’ve gained in narrative coherence, we’ve lost in emotional resonance and formal risk-taking. The question, I suppose, is which do you value more?
On the plus side, the writing in this version of Skins is much tidier, especially when it comes to the Tina-Chris and Tony-Tea storylines—both of which make much more sense in this version. The downside is that some of the shape-shifting magic of the original has been lost. Rather than a whimsical, fourth-wall-breaking series about teens, we’ve got something else entirely. It got off to a brutal start, but somewhere around episode five, Skins settled into an inoffensive groove as a mostly very earnest, issues-oriented teen soap, a more self-aware version of Degrassi, Fifteen or—bear with me on this reference—Tribes (I am not sure anyone other than my sister and I ever watched the last show, but please let me know if you did, too). It’s a guilty pleasure, rather than a show adults can watch without apology.
In most ways, tonight’s episode bore little, if any, resemblance to the original season one finale. Based on what we’ve learned so far, this should be a good thing—Skins is at its been best when it’s struck out on its own (see the "Tea" and "Michele" episodes for evidence of this). Yet somehow, I found myself underwhelmed by the utter safeness of this finale. Perhaps this is because I was, as mentioned before, eagerly anticipating Tony’s collision with a speeding vehicle, only to be disappointed when he escaped with a few punches to the head. But there are other reasons, too. The Stan-Michelle-Cadie plotline is also, at this point, too muddled for me to care much about. Does Stan like Cadie or Michelle? Eh, I have no idea. The key to a successful love triangle is audience investment in the outcome; I’m not so sure anyone has much riding on Stan’s decision. Put a gun to my head, and I’d say Michelle, mostly because of Rachel Thevenard. She’s the only performer on the series who’s made me really care about her character. Otherwise, I don’t have a strong opinion; worse, I don’t think the writers do, either. Even they seem unsure of the whole thing. It’s nice to see the nerd get the girls, I suppose, but that’s about it. As the episode draws to a close, it looks like Stan has, for the moment, settled on Michelle, and that’s, well, fine.
But the most ho-hum aspect of this finale was the impromptu duet between Stan and Cadie. She challenges him to “express himself” and do something crazy; he takes to the stage and starts singing the timeless Tears for Fears classic, “Shout.” On one level, it was a risky, slightly anachronistic moment more suitable for a John Hughes movie than a show that’s usually jam-packed with the latest indie rock cues. Viewed in isolation, the scene kinda-sorta works: I started out wincing, ended up smiling. But then, I remembered the original finale, which featured something much bolder—and much, much more thrilling to watch: A strangely poignant sequence in which Sid and various characters, including bloody, unconscious Tony, lip synch to Cat Stevens’s “Wild World.” Sure, it was flashy, but it also perfectly captured the show’s unique tone, at once melodramatic and subversive, earnest and ironic. It was exhilarating and memorable. Viewed in this light, Stan and Cadie’s rendition of “Shout” is a tepid half–measure. To borrow the car metaphor Myles proposed last week, what we’ve got, courtesy of MTV, is something that may run a little more reliably than its British counterpart, but it never gets over 50. Will this be enough to earn the show a second season? I’m not so sure.
- I was away the last two weeks, but after catching up on the last two episodes, I largely agree with Todd and Myles’ assessments. I especially liked the “Tina” episode, though, as someone who is no longer 23, I couldn’t help but thinking that 23-year-olds are almost as reckless about sex—probably even more so—than 17-year-olds. But I digress. The episode, I thought, was also hampered by the whole Dave-stalker thing, which was both unfunny and implausible.
- I have to agree with Todd when it comes to the Tea-Michelle-Tony plotline: I also do not care. I also find the Tea-Betty relationship to be somewhat unconvincing, though I am interested in dissenting opinions on this one.
- In the home video of Stan and Michelle, did anyone else wonder who was who? For a second I thought, “Why is Stan wearing a princess tiara?”
- Further evidence that the funny bits on this show always seem to fall flat: the alliterative exchange between Cadie and Stan about Warren’s trip to Wyoming.
- Warren is “so ripped he walks funny.”
- The acting on this show, initially its biggest liability, has improved remarkably. Newman and Britne Oldford are still problematic, but Thevenard, Daniel Flaherty, and Sofia Black-D’Elia are uniformly strong.